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Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, November 2006

This is a welcome addition to the Haydn discography. Generally, if you are interested in sampling any of the earlier symphonies, you need to invest in a complete set. Even with the budget price tag of Adam Fischer's set on Brilliant Classics and Antal Dorati's on Decca, this is still a pretty expensive proposition. The fact remains, though, that while the popular named Sturm und Drang symphonies and the late Paris and London sets are well served on disc, the sheer volume of the symphonic output has tended to marginalise the earlier symphonies. The daytime triptych of symphonies 6-8 is the exception to this rule.

Naxos has been putting a Haydn cycle together for some years now, using a number of its house bands and conductors. Although Naxos will doubtless bundle the cycle up in a white box when it is complete, company policy dictates that the individual discs will also remain on sale for those who want to purchase specific issues rather than emptying their pockets and filling their shelves with more Haydn that they can handle in one go.

This CD is the first of the series to feature Irish conductor Kevin Mallon and the Toronto Camerata.Mallon impressed earlier this year with a disc of Handel, and he seems equally at home in Haydn's symphonies. The Toronto Camerata are also surprisingly good. They are essentially a pick-up band comprising musicians from a number of Toronto-based orchestras, including the Toronto Symphony and the Canadian Opera Orchestra. Nonetheless, their ensemble is impressive and they play with period performance sensitivity on their modern instruments.

They clearly enjoy this music, and I enjoyed listening to it. Although these symphonies date from early in Haydn's career, he was already a mature musician. All four of these symphonies were written within a couple of years of his joining the Esterhazy court as Vice-Kapellmeister and show him experimenting with symphonic form, which was then still in its infancy. Two of the symphonies are in the expected four movements. The other two are in three movements, with an expanded slow movement taking the place of the usual menuet.

The 14th symphony has an attractive opening theme, with an unexpected rest introducing a hesitation into the flow of the music - a typical Haydn touch. The writing for horns in the third movement menuet is lovely and, after a gentle start, the finale revs up with horns to the fore once more in an exciting finish.

The 15th symphony is, like its predecessor, in four movements, though this time Haydn inverts the internal andante and menuet movements. The introduction to the first movement is a light adagio, with high violins, with interjections from the horns, unsupported by the rest of the orchestra until the presto kicks in at about 1:50. The menuet movement features some lovely solo cello and viola writing.

The 16th symphony, like the 14th, opens with an allegro of contrapuntal tendencies. The central andante is pretty, but it is the third and final movement that is the highlight of this piece: a light, nimble presto in 6/8 time.

To close proceedings, the 17th symphony contributes a lively first movement allegro, a soulful central slow movement, and a high-spirited finale that is over in a flash.

Keith Anderson’s liner notes, as always, are informative and well written.

For all of its delights, I do have some reservations. The disc is let down by an over-reverberant acoustic which at times makes the music sound like it is being played in a concert hall with tiled walls. You really notice this when the horns kick in. The quick violin figures in the swift outer movements are not always perfectly in time, though I admit to being pedantic here. The other irritant is the use of a harpsichord continuo. To be fair, it does not bother me for most of the disc and its use is justifiable on historical grounds, but it is very distracting in the quieter passages in general and in the andante of the 14th symphony in particular.

On the whole, though, this disc deserves a high recommendation. Anyone looking to sample early Haydn should look no further.

David Hurwitz, October 2006

Even at this early stage in his career (he was in his late 20s to early 30s, don't forget), Haydn's music was about 10 times more inventive than any of the competition. All four of these symphonies have many delightful moments, from the syncopated rhythms in the finale of No. 14, to the lovely and affecting use of counterpoint that opens No. 16 (a personal favorite), to the gorgeous slow introduction of No. 15 for horns with pizzicato strings. Kevin Mallon and the Toronto Camerata clearly understand and enjoy the idiom, offering stylish and elegant renditions that make this one of the best releases in Naxos' enterprising but variable complete symphony edition. The horn players are excellent, textures are transparent, and Mallon knows how to judge tempos to provide maximum contrast (especially in the minuets) and vitality. The continuo is well balanced and discretely played, as it should be, so as not to create artificial rhythms that fight against Haydn's energetic bass lines. In short, these are first-rate modern-instrument versions of works that you should waste no time in getting to know. Very good sound too.

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, September 2006

RESCUED FROM OBSCURITY: Joseph Haydn's early symphonies languish in the long shadows of the later nicknamed ones. But if these eight early examples lack the authority and distinctive personalities of their successors, they're engaging, attractive and beautifully crafted.

FINE PERFORMANCES: The Toronto Camerata is a chamber orchestra that draws players from the Toronto Symphony, Canadian Opera Company, Canadian Ballet Orchestra and Tafelmusik.

BOTTOM LINE: These are modern-instrument performances, but conductor Kevin Mallon coaxes the sweetness and lilt of the best period-instrument groups. Recorded sound is at once clear and lush.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, July 2006

We’ve now reached volume thirty in Naxos’s budget price Haydn symphonic series. Collectors will know that other bands have made substantial contributions and these include the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under Helmut Müller-Brühl, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Béla Drahos and Sinfonia Finlandia directed by Patrick Gallois.

Toronto Camerata, which Kevin Mallon has directed on disc before, of course, is a modern instrument group but one that is versed in historically informed practice. I always find that a pompous mouthful to say, let alone write, but it has the virtue of being true.

Even at this price bracket, and even in the earlier symphonies, there are competitors. If you want a budget price box doubtless you will have considered Adam Fischer’s set of the complete symphonies with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, ex-Nimbus and now in a Brilliant box set. You’ll need to buy the box as the volumes are not, unlike Naxos’s, availably singly but the Brilliant price is exceptionally tempting. But that would be to overlook differences in interpretation and approach to these early symphonies and differences there certainly are.

The Toronto/Mallon performances of all four are distinguished by an airy clarity of textures and lightness of articulation. Bowing is never heavy or tensile; textures are never quasi-Romantic. The results are consistently enjoyable.

The string sections are lissom and light on their feet, horns discreet but characterful. In the opening Allegro of the A major Fischer is more rococo than Mallon with a greater quotient of the old espressivo, and a greater masculinity and vigour. The subtly argued rhythm that underpins the andante brings with it a lighter wit in Mallon’s hands however, against which Fischer can sound a touch heavy – these are respective qualities that recur throughout their performances. The smaller string body of Mallon’s band means that the finale is full of textual clarity and Fischer’s full of manly heft.

In the D major Fischer sounds rather more Beechamesque with a lyricism that is almost French, almost, in fact, taking Haydn close to Grétry (specifically Zémire et Azor). Free flowing and fleeter, Mallon is deft if not quite so obviously warm, though once more his Minuet scores by virtue of the ease and lightness of his rhythmic control. Fischer chugs but Mallon flies in the opening of No.16. If I find Fischer somewhat more characterful in this three-movement work it’s the case that Mallon remains true to deftness and light articulation. The aria-like beauty of the slow movement of the F major is perhaps more gravely expressed by Fischer though Mallon’s warmth is always evident.

In the end these are two differing philosophies, one attuned more to the historically informed, the other to the greater romantic weight of the modern chamber or symphony orchestra. Choice will depend as much on one’s affiliations in this respect as to anything else. Certainly there are few complaints with the recording. I’ve in the past found this location leads to a certain recession of sound and a lack of heft in the tuttis but things seem to be much better here.

James North

Naxos's Haydn symphony series, which is nearing the finish line, has traveled around the globe, usually finding responsive ensembles and responsible interpretations within the modern-instrument milieu. This Canadian expedition is a complete success. Toronto Camerata (which is also the name of a local chorus specializing in a cappella performances) uses modem instruments, but in many ways heeds period practices: Mallon takes every repeat, including those in Menuetto da capo. The strings have a slightly plangent sound; nine violins are joined by three violas, two cellos, and a double bass. There are no timpani or trumpets in these early symphonies. The recorded ambience (Toronto's Grace Church on the Hill) is live and lively; strings are up close and clear, but oboes and horns, more removed from the microphones, are enveloped in reverberance.

Those who are learning the Haydn canon as Naxos proceeds will be astonished anew by the consistently high quality of his output and by the spirit and spice of even his earliest symphonies. The numbers we use were assigned almost 100 years ago by Eusabius Mandyczewski, and 20th-century research has shown that they are not quite accurate among the early works. No. 15, for example, was one of the very first--composed before Haydn came to Eisenstadt to work for Prince Esterhazy. Its opening movement has the initial Adagio section return after an Allegro that bears little relation to sonata form. Nos. 16 and 17 have only three movements, each lacking a Menuet, but are obviously far more advanced than No. 15. Haydn was always experimenting, and No. 16 has an almost Schubertian Andante. It also employs horns not found in the score printed with the Goberman LP. No. 17 is particularly lively and richly orchestrated; this time an oboe appears that is missing from the Goberman score (which includes emendations by H. C. Robbins Landon in the early 1960s).

These performances are smoother than those in Adam Fischer's complete set of Haydn symphonies, and the recordings warmer as well as clearer. Toronto Camerata's playing is also more confident than that by Roy Goodman's Hanover Band, which does not take all the repeats. These are delightful recordings in every way, surpassed only by the period-instrument performances of Derek Solomons's L'estro armonico, few of which have reached CD.

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